Spoilers ahead for the Lovecraft Country episode “Jig-a-Bobo”
Lovecraft Country’s ability to blend real-life events that shaped Black history along with sci-fi and fantasy elements is almost flawless. The series manages to shed light on things like redlining, the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, and more while throwing Tic, Leti, Montrose, Ruby, Hippolyta, and Dee right in the midst of magic. This week’s episode is no different. The death of Emmett Till sparks an undercurrent of unease and tense emotions that take the characters to new and terrifying territory.
Emmett Till in Lovecraft Country and Real Life
Eagle-eyed viewers spotted Emmett Till back in the “Holy Ghost” episode. He was one of Dee’s friends playing with a Ouija board. It’s not far-fetched that Dee and Emmett would be friends. They are both residents in a segregated South Side Chicago and around the same age. They likely met in their neighborhood and go to school together. He goes by Bobo, which was Till’s real-life nickname. Bobo is wearing an outfit from a famed photo of Till pictured with his mother.
Till uses his turn asking a question on the board to see if he will have a good time on his trip. The board’s planchette quickly flies to the word “NO.” This is an ominous warning of what would happen to the 14-year-old from Chicago who takes a vacation to visit relatives Mississippi in August 1955. According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Till was kidnapped in the middle of the night by two white men. Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam took Till because he allegedly whistled at Bryant’s wife Carolyn a few days earlier.
The men brutally beat him, mutilated his body, shot him, and tied the teenager to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire before throwing him in the Tallahatchie River. Because his face was unrecognizable, Mamie Till Mobley identified his body by his ears and engraved ring. Emmett’s horrific lynching is a heartbreaking part of American history that further drove the Civil Rights Movements of the 1950s and 1960s. His killers were acquitted by an all white jury. His family continues to fight for justice 65 years later.
Dee’s Compounding Trauma
His mother decided to have an open-casket funeral so the entire could see the brutality behind her child’s demise. This funeral and Till’s effect on the community is what sets the events of “Jig-A-Bobo” in action. Until this point, Dee’s thoughts and pain have taken a backseat to everyone else’s stories. But Bobo’s death not only digs into a wound created by losing her father; it also leads her to question her mother’s whereabouts.
It turns out Hippolyta didn’t beam herself back home after all. Dee knows her mother wouldn’t miss her friend’s funeral and she disappears from the church to wander the streets in anger. Unfortunately, after Till’s death, the police grow even worse than they already were, in “fear of Black retaliation.” Captain Lancaster stops Dee in an alleyway to ask her about magic.
He found her comic book left behind by Tic and Hippolyta at the observatory and puts a curse on her. She’s unable to talk about the experience. Two childlike evil entities threaten to kill her unless she brings the orrery to Lancaster. They resemble the stereotypical depictions of a “jigaboo,” a derogatory caricature with large lips, braids, and other details that mock Black physical features.
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Tic and Montrose’s Reconciliation
Till’s death also brings Tic and Montrose back together again after their last explosive argument. Tic’s newfound information about the future from his son (the George Freeman who wrote the Lovecraft Country book) with Leti further leads him to patch things up with his dad. They are able to not only come to a point of truth and reconciliation about Montrose’s sexuality, but they work together to help Tic cast his own protection spell. Now, Tic has his own shoggoth to protect him from harm, even though he probably made a bad decision by giving Christina the orrery key.
Montrose connects with Dee over her pain about Bobo’s death by saying he also lost a friend to racist violence. He’s unaware of Dee’s experience with Lancaster but the moment further softens his heart towards Atticus.
Ruby and Leti Level Up
Sisters Ruby and Leti also parse through Emmett’s death individually and collectively. Ruby returns to the arms of Christina/William Braithwaite—a decision she later seems to regret. She confronts Christina and tells her the details of Emmett’s death. Christina’s nonchalant expression angers Ruby, who says she wants Christina to feel what she feels.
“…I want you to feel what I feel right now. Heartbroken. Scared. Furious. Tired. So f***ing tired of feeling this way over and over. And I want you to feel alone and shameful cause I’m here feeling this and you will never understand it…I should be on the South Side with my people mourning this sweet little boy who was taken from us. You wanna know why I took that potion? Because today of all days I didn’t wanna be a Black woman f***ing a white man.”
Of course, Christina says she doesn’t care and doesn’t think Ruby does either. She thinks Ruby took the potion because she’s still a woman who wants what she wants. She obviously can’t see that both things can be true at the same time. Christina thinks she is using Ruby for her own gain, but Ruby plans on accessing magic to advance Black people.
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Meanwhile, Leti is praying to God to protect her and Tic from everything that’s going on. She’s newly pregnant and certainly thinking about the future of her unborn baby in a world filled with monsters and racists who could hurt him like Emmett Till was hurt. She goes so far as to give Christina negatives of Titus’ pages to make herself invulnerable.
Leti later tells Ruby that Emmett’s mother was brave enough to show the world his body yet she was too afraid to take photos. Ruby tells her not to feel guilty for protecting herself before Leti admits she’s pregnant. Ruby and Leti tell each other about their magical happenings before things go awry again. Lancaster is at their door because there’s an alleged Nation of Islam meeting about retaliation in response to Emmett’s murder. Leti’s house keeps him from entering but this leads to an intense shootout. Thankfully, Leti and Tic’s moves to protect themselves save everyone from death… Except Dee. Her final encounter with the two girls looks like she might die.
The ways that Emmett’s death impacts our main characters feels incredibly grounded and real despite the fictional horror elements. However, this episode does veer off into a path that feels unnecessary. Christina pays two men to “kill” her the same way that Emmett dies in real life. She’s beaten, shot twice, tied to a cotton gin fan, and tossed into water. She resurfaces shortly afterward and reveals a magic mark on her stomach before bursting into tears.
It suggests that she will somehow better empathize, understand brutality against Black people because of this experience and become an ally of some sort. The truth is, she’s a magical White woman who already thought her struggles were somehow comparable to a Black woman’s plight. She doesn’t care about anything except her own agenda. And even after experiencing the pain of Emmett’s death, she still doesn’t get it. It’s not something he asked to have done to him and he didn’t have magic to survive it. Her many privileges are still intact and working to her benefit no matter what.
Emmett Till’s death and the recent police deaths by shoggoth will certainly put Chicago at a tipping point. The protagonists of Lovecraft Country will never be the same as they grapple with losing more people and gaining the upper hand via magic. It’s all a reminder of how fantasy and reality would actually play out for a Black protagonist in America, whether it’s 1955 or 2020.
Featured Image: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO